[Rough Draft]

A weblog about god, doubt, insomnia, culture, baseball

4.14.2004

how far is too far?

as a sort of case study of what is meant by a "slippery slope" in dealing w/ scripture (in this case, the hebrew bible), consider last week's speaking of faith from minnesota public radio. renee' happened to catch the show on sunday, but i listened to it later on realaudio. anyhoo, one of the guests was rabbi sandy eisenberg sasso of congregation beth-el zedeck in indianapolis, only the second (can that be right?) woman ordained as a jewish rabbi. the overwhelming sense i got from listening to her was of a woman desperately trying to remain faithful to scripture but to give it a "new" meaning @ the same time.

rabbi sasso affirms that yhwh is a "god who acts in history," just as orthodox xtians affirm. nevertheless, she advocates midrash, a re-telling of sacred story that searches for "new and deeper meanings in biblical texts" (i.e., stuff that wasn't in there to begin w/, obviously). speaking of scripture, she says "i certainly ask questions of it" and see the exodus as "a piece of drama [about a] downtrodden people crossing a sea." she rather conspiculously puts herself over the text, though. exod. 9.12 plainly says "god hardened pharaoh's heart," but sasson assures us that "how we understand the text can move us in a different direction . . . . i could not believe in a god who forces another human being to do bad . . . my understanding of god is a god who softens the heart . . . so i'm more inclined to understand the 'hardens the heart'" as a callousness that has simply gotten beyond pharaoh's control, a "psychology of evil," so to speak.

slip, slip, slip . . .

a story to demonstrate her "re-interpretation" of the hebrew scriptures: @ the end of the passover seder a goblet is ritually filled w/ wine for elijah, the prophet who will come to announce the savior's approach. as a child, she would stare @ the cup (much like my leaving cookies as santa-bait and loitering about the hearth, i suppose) and was disheartened "to learn it went down the kitchen sink." so, when in doubt . . . throw it [the meaning] out: her family and congregation have a "new custom" -- they put out an empty cup into which each person pours some of their wine b/c they "realize that it's going to take the effort of each and every one of us to bring about a world redeemed." decrying any real hope that god will step into history and save us (which is what xtians proclaim has indeed happened), rabbi sasson is left w/ no hope but ourselves. "it's all our efforts" that will make the difference. the enlightened mind will not admit miracle, so sasson and s. r. driver and martin noth are compelled to demythologize it. the rabbi's worry is that we "get lost in the literalness of the text" when all the while "we don't have to take the text literally in order to take it seriously."

(sound familiar?)

for this well-spoken, gentle and plaintly sincere woman, the truth or falsity of the text is really quite beside the point. it is, rather, the "malleability" of the tradition that makes it strong. the text gives the "basic story," but "the tradition remains alive and vital b/c we keep reading ourselves into the story . . . and we add another layer to pass on to the next generation." rather than scripture finding its value and vitality in its being the word of god who is truth (and way and life), it depends upon our own voices to keep the story alive.

so that's sort of what i'm talking about (that and the more contemporary example that tracy recounts about dylan and the dog). i understand we fear grey, but i believe we should be afraid, be reeeeeaaally afraid, when our arrogance or the hardness of our own hearts leads us to preface any sentence with "i could not believe in a god who . . . ."

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